I ran through something like this in my head last fall when I dug up my college transcript to apply for library school. But it hadn’t occurred to me to make a post out of it until I read teo’s look at his transcript.
It’s striking how I narrowed down to taking almost all history courses in my last few terms. I didn’t decide on graduate school until almost a year after I graduated, but you could see where I was heading.
Math: Linear Algebra and Differential Equations. Math was my favorite subject all the way through high school and I put in extra work on algebra one summer just so that I could take calculus during my junior year. Since there were no more high school math courses to take after that, I took this at the university, as I had been accepted into a program that allowed high schoolers to take college classes. There were about three or four other students from my high school in this course.
English: Detective Novels (freshman seminar). We read detective novels and discussed them. No assignments; only one unit. I really liked this class. Developed an interest in Raymond Chandler.
English: The Value of Literature (freshman seminar). Attempted to get at the reasons people who find literature valuable value literature (not about why people in general should find literature valuable). I was not convinced by the reasons suggested by the professor, but I got a lot out of the class. Read poetry I’d probably never have picked up on my own.
History: Modern Europe. I was amazed at the primary sources in the reader: so this is what history is like beyond the textbooks.
[End of term: realized that this was the first term since I began schooling that I did not take a math or science. Did not feel like that was a bad thing.]
Comparative Literature: Reading and Composition. The first of two semesters on composition. Great readings drawn from a bunch of different places, loosely tied together by the presence of a suicide in each reading. Very happy I chose a course outside the English department.
English: Films of Alfred Hitchcock (freshman seminar). Another one of those 1-unit courses without assignments – just discussion. Watched a bunch of Hitchcock films: liked only a few.
Linguistics: American Languages. Satisfied a breadth requirement. Learned a lot about regional variation in American English. Did a project on insults. Learned a little about linguistics as a field, but this was for non-majors and that wasn’t a big part of the course.
Math: Multivariable Calculus. Last math class I ever took (not counting Statistics). With linear algebra and differential equations, satisfied the math prerequisites for the physics major I was deciding against declaring. Almost sad to leave math behind.
Physics: Mechanics. Good professor, but so boring as a subject. First in a sequence on introductory physics for scientists and engineers. As I finished the semester intending to become neither, I never finished the sequence.
Physics: Current topics (freshman seminar): Another 1-unit course with no assignments. Actual astrophysicists came in and talked about their current research once a week. Maybe they shouldn’t have scheduled this right after lunch in a room with comfortable chairs: every week I struggled to stay awake.
[End of term: if I’m not going to major in physics, what am I going to major in? Decided to target general breadth requirements and stay undeclared.]
History: Medieval Europe. Never thought I’d be so interested in this. First few lectures completely changed how I approached thinking about the past. Professor showed just how strange and different something that had seemed familiar could be. Can no longer remember what prior image I had of the middle ages.
Philosophy: Introduction to Logic. It takes a surprisingly large number of steps to prove from “All horses are mammals” that “All horses’ heads are mammals’ heads.”
Philosophy: Early Modern Philosophy. Catalog said this was history of philosophy but seemed more like a survey of what some philosophers in the past thought about things – specifically, about the question of the existence of things. Only political philosophy I remember was Rousseau, who appeared to be on the syllabus so that we could belittle him.
Sociology: Principles of Sociology. For non-majors. Should have taken the introduction for majors. Learned lots of information, not so many principles.
History: Meiji Japan (dropped). Had I known this upper-division survey would be taught more like a graduate course – with graduate students enrolled, an enormous amount of reading for an undergraduate course, and an assumption of more prior knowledge than I had – I would not have signed up. Instead, I didn’t have the motivation to stick with it so I dropped it halfway through the term, but because that was after the usual deadline I got a notation indicating the drop on my transcript.
Environmental Sciences: Introduction. A good course, team taught. I used to wish I’d followed up and double majored in this and history. I still think it would have been a good idea, but it’s not an active regret.
Geography: The Cultures of Cities. Great lecture course on 19th century European and 20th century American cities, disappointing assignments. Didn’t learn how to write an all-nighter more-or-less bland regurgitated-lectures paper until the final. First such paper in my life was the midterm. I still intend to finish the reading.
History: United States 1607-1865. Solid survey course. I wish I hadn’t been rushing to finish a paper during professor’s lecture on his specialty of immigration; only lecture I missed. This history thing might be worth pursuing.
Sociology: Social Change (dropped). Seemed like a course on modern European/American history, with some reference to sociological ideas about change. Covered enough ground I’d already seen in history for me to wonder why I was taking it. Lacking in motivation, I followed my earlier example and dropped this, receiving another notation on my transcript. Wondered if I’d have seen value of the course had I taken an introduction to sociology for majors. I still might do the reading.
Comparative Literature: Reading and Composition. Had to finish this requirement somehow, and I kept dropping English courses. Readings focused on urban settings. Wrote a paper about spontaneous combustion.
History: China. Lower division survey covering a lot of ground. Good course, but my lack of motivation that year caught up to me on the final. Didn’t have a good essay topic until just after I turned in the exam and walked out of the room.
Political Science: Introduction to Comparative Politics. Good lectures, interesting discussions and readings, inspired me to start following international news. But pretty much left me thinking I’d fit better in history, if I got around to declaring a major.
[End of term: I’d spent much of the year thinking I should have gone away from home for college; this was related to the aforementioned lack of motivation. Considered transferring, decided against it. Realized that combination of units from high school (AP, courses taken while a senior) + summer units meant I could graduate early. Decided to seek out opportunities for a change of setting: summer elsewhere, semester in DC, abroad program.]
Summer 1997 (at another university)
History: American West and History: California. Same professor; courses taught back to back. Entertaining lectures, good readings. Basically sealed my indecisive decision to major in history. Shared an apartment with my sister that summer. We got along fine.
History: Historic places. I can’t remember the exact title of this course, but it was a bit of history and a bit of historical geography – the concept of space was important. As good as an undergraduate seminar could be.
History: International History (20th century). Probably should have been called something like Great Power Diplomacy. Taught by someone formerly in the State Department (or so I remember). Good course, but I thought the title indicated it would be broader than it was. As I was now reading the international sections of the paper, I was glad to get an introduction to the EU and the outlines of its history.
History: Eastern Europe in the 20th century. Very good upper division survey. Another course that helped me start to make sense of international news, at least with respect to Europe.
Poli Sci: speaker series. Another 1-unit course without assignments, but this time with a multiple choice test at the end to determine pass/fail. The one unit put me at the minimum units for the term, a fact that might explain my having enrolled in the class. Theme for the semester was activism. Some of the speakers were very good. Some weren’t at all.
History: independent research. This was the core course of a semester in DC (part of my change of scenery). My favorite semester in college.
American Studies: Washington D.C. – The City as a Museum. Combination of lectures and walking tours on the history of DC. Worth it for the walking tours.
Italian: Elementary Italian. The final part of my decision to seek out changes of scenery. I wish I’d followed up on Italian language courses, but mainly I took this because it was part of the only summer abroad program with space available when I signed up. I did all the work diligently anyway. I doubt I’d have done any of the travel abroad I did later in life without this summer as an introduction.
Italian: Italian Culture. I prefer to remember this as the lectures on Renaissance art history given by one of the teaching assistants and not as whatever it was that the professor seemed to be discussing during the other lectures. Expanded the interest in art for sightseeing I had begun to develop in DC. I used to go see art only when dragged by family or friends.
History: Comparative history. I can’t remember the official title, but this had to do with European empires – the British mainly – and cultural contact. Somewhat literary historical. Good to be introduced to those approaches, but overall more meta than I expected or wanted. Wrote my final paper on a mock dialogue by Edmund Spenser about Ireland (and contrasted with a then-contemporary description of Virginia), just because I figured the professor was expecting us to write about colonialism outside Europe. Got the idea from a TA.
History: Senior research seminar. I think they called this a thesis course, but the paper seemed too short – 35-50 pages – to be a thesis and there wasn’t a defense or anything more formal than turning it in. The course focused on narrative sources in Early Modern Europe; I chose the plague. Taught by the TA who gave me the idea of writing about Ireland for the other course when he assigned us the Spenser text.
[End of college: I considered doing a full thesis for honors, but when I realized I needed only a few more units to graduate, I did that instead. I even petitioned to take fewer than the minimum number of units after reading that they allowed you to do that in your final semester.]